Empower Employees with Knowledge

Last night I ran into a store—which I'll just call BallDart—to purchase a DVD for a class I was teaching that evening.

I'd never been inside a BallDart store, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It certainly wasn't the conversation I had below with the clerk in the DVD section.

Me: I'm looking for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Clerk: I don't know that film.

Me: It's kind of a sci-fi comedy action flick.

Random Customer: I didn't like it.

Me: Really. Sorry. Well, I'd like to purchase it. Do you know where it is?

Clerk: No. Did you look around?

Me: Yes. I didn't see it. Are they in alphabetical order?

Clerk: No. God, I wish they were. Are you looking for Bu-ray?

Me: No, just a regular DVD. Can we look up on a computer to see if you carry it?

Clerk (looking to the heavens – maybe for the answer?): You know, we get these [DVDs] from another store. They used to provide us a booklet, so we could look up and see if we had the movie. But now they don't give us those anymore.

On her behalf, the clerk then helped me scan the aisles, containing hundreds of videos, until we accidently found the last copy.

Help That Poor Employee

By the time I got to the register to purchase the DVD (which by the way required another trip back to the video department to take off the protective case) I wanted to scream at a supervisor somewhere, "Will you help your poor employee? She's flailing!"

Why would I scream at the supervisor and not the employee? Because my clerk had all the makings of a great retail employee: confidence, friendliness, patience, persistence, and empathy, but appeared to have zero tools to create a positive experience for her or me.

Also, a supervisor's behavior has a direct influence on the service a customer ultimately receives. In the entertaining video, So Help Me, supervisors can see firsthand how their attitudes and conduct play a huge role out on the floor.

The supervisor at BallDart should know that even the best front-line employees perform poorly in a less-than-ideal environment—like an unorganized DVD floor.

There was a bright side. Guardians of the Galaxy was great!

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.